Just off Broadway in the Overland neighborhood, Bear Creek Distillery
is a new operation -- its whiskeys haven't even had a full year to age yet -- but its spirits are already winning awards.
In March, Bear Creek Distillery won three awards at the Denver International Spirits Competition
, an event that attracted companies as big as Beam Suntory (makers of Jim Beam and its family of products). But Bear Creek took home the gold in the Vodka Potato category with its 100 percent Wheat Vodka, and two silvers in the Vodka Rye and Rum White categories.
"Our vodkas are sort of unique because we make grain-specific vodka," explains co-founder Jay Johnson. "Typically a vodka off the shelf you'll find are mixed grain or potato. Potato vodkas are relatively common. It is relatively uncommon to find a vodka that is 100 percent wheat or 100 percent rye," he says of the award-winning spirits.
The Silver Rum, which isn't aged, also won an award at the show. "Rum is easy to make. It's ingredients are easy to clean up, you can get it bottled within a month," Johnson says. In fact, vodka is harder to make because it has to be distilled to such a high proof. "It has a to be 190 proof," he says.
These spirits are just the start for the nascent distillery. "We hope to release our Silver Rum that has been aged in used Wild Turkey barrels, and then we also do a house-infused spiced rum," Johnson explains. "We mirror our vodka with a rye whiskey that we hope to have available by the holidays or in the beginning of the year for our tasting room. That goes the same for our wheat whiskey. Our bourbon probably won't ready until 2017."
That's because of the nature of spirits like whiskey. They don't have a set completion date and need to mature at their own pace. While some distillers are importing spirits from other states to age or blend here in Colorado, that's not the case with Bear Creek.
"We do everything grain to glass right here in our facility off Broadway," Johnson says. "I understand the lure of it doing it the other way . . . but we do things as genuinely as possible, so we're going to bite the bullet and battle father time until the bourbon is ready and the whiskey is as well. In my opinion, that's the right way to do things."
Since it's so new, the distillery doesn't yet have extensive retail distribution, but the tasting room is just the place for quaffs and cocktails. "For all intents and purposes, it's a bar, but we can only serve liquor with things that we've made," Johnson says. That means no store-bought bitters, cordials or vermouth. "We have to get really creative with fresh juices and herbs and things like that. We've gotten really good at recreating cocktails with things that we're allowed to use."
The tasting room is open from Thursday to Saturday. During the rest of the week, Johnson and the crew are busy making more spirits and tending to those that are aging.
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